Morning after pill for HIV?
A drug taken within 72 hours of HIV exposure is effective in checking the virus, reports Sanchita Sharma.india Updated: Aug 13, 2006 04:17 IST
Abstinence, being faithful and condoms remain the mainstay of reducing HIV infection, but for times when all three fail, there’s PEP. Short for Post Exposure Prophylaxis, PEP — popularly called the “morning-after pill” for HIV — requires a short course of antiretroviral (drugs to treat HIV/AIDS) taken as soon as possible after exposure to HIV. The treatment is effective only if taken within 72 hours of exposure.
Though PEP has been around for over a decade, its use has so far been limited to healthcare workers who were accidentally exposed to HIV at the workplace.
Despite the risk of side effects, it is now being considered an option to prevent HIV infection through sex and injecting drug use by high-risk groups.
There is still some debate about the number of drugs to be taken and the length of the treatment. The best-known study remains the 1997 The New England Journal of Medicine report that found AZT monotherapy (zidovudine) given within 24 hours of exposure and over 28 days reduced HIV transmission by as much as 81 per cent.
The more recent 2002 Brazilian study found that PEP reduced the seroconversion (time taken to develop detectable antibodies to HIV following infection) rate by 83 per cent, from 4.1 cases per 100 patients a year to 0.7 cases.
More importantly, it reported that PEP reduced “high-risk” behaviour from 56 per cent to 40 per cent, thus allaying fears that easy availability would make people feel safe and increase their risk-taking behaviour.
Research is also currently on for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) that aims to prevent infection by administering antiretroviral drugs before possible exposure to HIV.
Experts, however, warn that PEP and PrEP are not meant for everyone as most people who get exposed to HIV through sexual contact don’t even know they’ve got infected. “We don’t have enough data that it works.
What has been proven to work in preventing HIV infection is delaying onset of intercourse, being faithful, increasing condom use, and reducing or eliminating drug injection,” says Judith Auerbach, vice president, public policy and program development, The Foundation of AIDS Research.